There was a moment, early in the match, when the two of them passed within a few feet of each other. Trouble, as they say, was in the air.
Serena Williams was walking north, and Justine Henin-Hardenne was walking south, and it was like the Sharks approaching the Jets. If people in the stands were honest, they would admit they were hoping for something of a rumble.
Yep, there was Justine, who supposedly thinks Serena is arrogant, and there is Serena, who supposedly thinks Justine is a bit of a twit, and suddenly, they were sharing the same airspace.
It was a delicious, frozen moment at Centre Court, real Tonya and Nancy stuff. From the billing of the match, you would think the linesmen would have to pry the two apart with the Jaws of Life.
Someone was about to throw an elbow, right? Or trip someone? Or at the very least, say something nasty. Weren't they? Serena even had her buddy, Bucs receiver Keyshawn Johnson, on hand to help coach the trash talk.
And then the two walked past each other.
And, darn the luck, they resumed their civility.
As far as the tennis goes, Serena chased Justine off the court Wednesday. As far as trouble, well, the grass of Wimbledon remains bloodless. No one threw anything but compliments.
This is maddening stuff, this peaceful coexistence, because if you believe what you hear, these two simply cannot stand that they are forced to share the same oxygen. Everyone loosely associated with tennis, from the ballboys to the umpires to Tim Henman, will tell you how little Serena likes Justine, and how little Justine likes Serena. (It's called return of malice.)
Except for Serena, who says all this speculation is the fault of the media.
Except for Justine, who says any disagreements are all in the past.
According to those two, they're the last to hear how much they detest each other. They say the relationship is simply wonderful. It's Laverne and Shirley, or Betty and Wilma, or Thelma and Louise. Why, if the Women's Tennis Association decided to put on a production of Chicago, they would play the parts of Velma and Roxie, only they would skip the sniping and go straight to the tap dance to the end.
To some at Centre Court, this is bound to be a disappointment. Tennis has become predictable. The Williams sisters win. Henman loses. (This just in: The Hall of Fame Bowl has extended an invitation to Henman, who finished another 7-4 season.)
If there is anything tennis could use these days, it's a good, spirited rivalry between players who rub each other the wrong way. Of course, that's only if people paying attention to the sport is considered a positive thing.
Certainly, Williams and Henin-Hardenne laid the groundwork for a nice little feud a month ago when Henin-Hardenne was accused of a bit of underhandedness in the semis of the French Open.
It was in third set, and Serena was serving, and Justine held up her hand to ask for a timeout. Serena followed through with her motion. Time was not allowed. When Serena pointed out that Justine had held up her hand, the umpire looked at Henin-Hardenne. She said nothing.
Henin-Hardenne went on to win in front of a partisan crowd (she is Belgian and married to a Frenchman). Williams already had provoked fans by suggesting the French didn't make war, they made clothes. This drove them over the edge. They whistled and hooted, and Serena finished the day in tears.
There is a code among players. You own up to what you do, and you expect the same from your opponent. Henin-Hardenne didn't. On the other hand, she won.
Since then, the buzz has been that Serena was busting to get another shot at Henin-Hardenne, that she was going to serve, volley and break Henin-Hardenne's best racket. She was going to get revenge for every brussels sprout ever put on any American's plate.
Even Henin-Hardenne's coach, Carlos Rodriguez, got into the act. He said Henin-Hardenne finds Serena "haughty and arrogant" and that she would have conceded the point in France to anyone else on the tour.
By the time the two walked on the court, there was an edge to the competition. You couldn't wait for the tiff to commence.
Except Serena didn't.
Except Justine wouldn't.
"I have no problems with anyone," Serena said. "The press wants to start a rivalry between people. It used to be the Williams sisters and (Martina) Hingis. I think you guys make a mountain out of a molehill, and there isn't even a molehill here. It's you guys. It's not us."
Henin-Hardenne said much the same. It's the fault of the accursed media. Don't you just hate us?
"Why are you coming back all the time with what happened in Paris?" she said. "We are here at Wimbledon. You like to make the controversy. We don't like it. I think it's really stupid."
All of which is possible. The press has been known to exaggerate things from time to time.
Except that I looked it up; it wasn't a writer who raised his hand at the French Open.
"What happened in Paris, we left in Paris," said Serena, quoting renowned philosopher Billy Crystal.
"You are making great things about nothing," Justine said.
That could be true. Or it could be, and I'm just throwing it out, of course, the two of them really don't like each other. They just don't see the profit in saying it out loud. It was that way for a while with Bill and Hillary, too.
Let's face it, the competitors of this sport, of any sport, are after the same trophies and the same money. They don't always get along. Choruses of Kumbaya do not break out spontaneously.
That doesn't mean players play any harder. It does, however, reveal a bit of personality, which tends to make things more interesting.
Now, of course, Serena has to play big sister Venus. Last year, they played here, and Serena took away Venus' title and her No. 1 ranking.
You gonna take that?